Dual-locus DNA metabarcoding reveals southern hairy-nosed wombats (Lasiorhinus latifrons Owen) have a summer diet dominated by toxic invasive plants. Academic Article uri icon


  • Habitat degradation and summer droughts severely restrict feeding options for the endangered southern hairy-nosed wombat (SHNW; Lasiorhinus latifrons). We reconstructed SHNW summer diets by DNA metabarcoding from feces. We initially validated rbcL and ndhJ diet reconstructions using autopsied and captive animals. Subsequent diet reconstructions of wild wombats broadly reflected vegetative ground cover, implying local rather than long-range foraging. Diets were all dominated by alien invasives. Chemical analysis of alien food revealed Carrichtera annua contains high levels of glucosinolates. Clinical examination (7 animals) and autopsy (12 animals) revealed that the most degraded site also contained most individuals showing signs of glucosinolate poisoning. We infer that dietary poisoning through the ingestion of alien invasives may have contributed to the recent population crashes in the region. In floristically diverse sites, individuals appear to be able to manage glucosinolate intake by avoidance or episodic feeding but this strategy is less tractable in the most degraded sites. We conclude that recovery of the most affected populations may require effective Carrichtera management and interim supplementary feeding. More generally, we argue that protection against population decline by poisoning in territorial herbivores requires knowledge of their diet and of those food plants containing toxic principles.

publication date

  • January 1, 2020